lessons to be learned from a campaign gone awry
When I was first diagnosed with MS in 1997, I must say that one little fear I had was that of “ending up in a wheelchair.” I wasn’t certain what that might mean, and the unknown was a little disconcerting. Since that time, I have learned so much about mobility, stereotypes, and… well, life in general.
As it was, seven years passed before I started using a cane to keep my balance. Another eight or so years, MS had expanded its reach just a little, and a physical therapist officially informed me that I was to use a walker when moving around of my own volition, as my sense of balance and coordination just didn’t work
together enough to keep me safe. (I likely should have made this move earlier, as I’ve tasted a little more pavement, concrete, dirt, and flooring than I had ever intended. And no, I did not plan any of these taste tests.)
So I do use a walker regularly, and friends and family have gracefully become accustomed to folding this contraption to bring with us in the car when we travel. But the walker requires legs with enough energy to walk, and to do so at a reasonable pace. Because of the amount of energy it takes to traverse some spaces, we do often use a manual wheelchair.
I view the wheelchair as a useful, appreciated tool, a helpful piece of equipment that allows me to attend events, visit museums, go shopping… to experience life, really, without fear of buckling legs and kissing the pavement. This is likely why a recent campaign rubbed me the wrong way. I believe “Beware the Chair” was meant to warn women about the importance of taking care of their bones, avoiding osteoporosis, so they wouldn’t “end up in a chair.” A remote control wheelchair chased women, meant to scare them into considering bone health. Really?? Are we meant to view wheelchairs with doom and disdain, and is this really going to assist women as they tackle low bone density?
These questions were tackled beautifully by Emiy Ladeau in a piece she wrote for The Huffington Post, “Beware the Scare tactics.” As one who does use a wheelchair due to disability, Emily attacks the fright attached to the use of a chair, rather than fear of bone deterioration. The biggest lesson from this campaign came the day after her piece was published online. The organization that first posted the ad at www.bwarethechair.com completely retracted the campaign as it was, offered apologies and directIng viewers to information directly related to osteoperosis and ways to maintain bone health.
Why is this hitting me today, of all days? June 3, 1997 was the day I sat in a neurologist’s office and heard a diagnosis of “probable multiple sclerosis.” I didn’t know what this meant, and I know I was wary about a lot of things, but I am thankful that people like Emily Ladeau work to reduce the stigma associated with disability. As she recommends, I hope I can “make disability issues accessible to the world.” Maybe I can help these issues that were invisible to me before June 1997 to become more obvious. I’ll keep plugging away in the weeks to come – we have a lot to learn together here in Grant County and beyond!